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The fairy tale of wojtek, the bear who became a soldier

Puppy adopted by a lieutenant. krakow dedicated a statue to him

14 May, 10:09
(ANSA) - WARSAW - The bear of fairy tales did really exist.

He was good, soft , cuddly. His name was Wojtek. He was born in Persia but he loved the Poles, he loved swimming in the Adriatic Sea and then retired to Scotland. He was afraid of braying donkeys, but endured the jokes of a mischievous monkey.

He liked wrestling with his soldier friends, but was always ready to help them carry the heavy boxes full of ammunition.

He also had some bad habits: he was very fond of eating, especially honey, he used to drink beer and vodka and he liked cigarettes, though he used to eat them. A true fairy tale in the dramatic years of World War II. A motherless bear cub who ends up in a field near Tehran among Polish civilians evacuated along with the soldiers led by General Wadysaw Anders. This happened in 1942. He was given the name of Wojtek, a diminutive of Wojciech, by a girl. Irena Bokiewicz. Three months later he can no longer stay there, so lieutenant Florczykowski brings him to the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, where on August 22, 1942, he is adopted by the soldier Piotr Prendysz and by his comrades.

Wojtek had lost his mother's love in the Iranian mountains and he tried to be loved by the men who would bring him with them in Syria, Palestine, Italy and finally in Britain. This teddy bear was inseparable from his friend Piotr. When he is still a cub, he's cuddled by the soldiers and becomes their mascot. When he grows up and becomes a bear, no one among the soldiers can abandon the ''puppy'', so he's also accepted by the officers and then he leaves, along with the soldiers of Polish II Corps, led by Anders and called to fight in Italy. One day Wojtek, watching his men friends, discovers that he can be useful and becomes a tireless transporter of big crates full of artillery shells: he carries them using his front legs as well as men do using their arms, charging and then discharging the trucks of the 22nd Company. ''Wojtek was a continuous source of affection and joy, he was our true friend, every time we came back from the frontline he used to celebrate and played with us, and after each action he kept us company'', former official Wojciech Narbski says.

Professor Narbski, internationally renowned scientist and professor emeritus of the prestigious Jagiellonian University in Krakow, is today 89 yo and he's the last surviving soldier of the 22nd Company. The story of the soldier Wojtek ends with the end of the war and the demobilization of Anders' army. He's already become the symbol of the 22nd Company: a bear carrying an artillery shell. His farewell to Piotr and to his friends on November 15, 1947: Wojtek arrives at Edinburgh Zoo, where he soon becomes a star.

Wojtek died on December 2, 1963 , at the age of 22, 5 of which spent in the army. This beloved bear is remembered in a little book written by Geoffrey Morgan and Wieslaw Antoni Lasocki and in a comic book translated in several languages and addressed to children, ''How Wojtek the bear became a soldier'' (downloadable from the Internet), thanks to a Italo-Polish school partnership project between the institute IIS ''Paolini Cassiano '' in Imola, promoted by Professor Angela Riccomi, and the school ''Skol Zespol Tekstylno - Handlowych'' in Zagan. There is also a docu-film made by the BBC and TV Polska. The city of Krakow will pay a tribute to him with a statue on May 18, in the 70th anniversary of the victory of Polish II Corps at Monte Cassino: this statue is not the first and will not be the last one.


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